A new study finds that while pig farms of the 1950s may be remembered as idyllic, they were not as sustainable as those of today. This becomes clear as the metrics most associated with sustainability are revealed from their 1959 baseline - a 35 percent decrease in carbon footprint, a 41 percent reduction in water usage and a 78 percent drop in land needed to produce a pound of pork.
Garth Boyd, Ph.D., an environmental researcher and former university professor, led a team of university and industry scientists who conducted this Checkoff-funded study to look at how the industry's gains in production efficiency over the last 50 years have affected pork's environmental impact. Everything affecting pork's footprint at the farm level was included in the model, including feed, water, energy, land and crop-nutrient resources needed to produce pork.
"The study underscores just how much improvement farmers have made over the past half century," Boyd said. "The pork industry has been very successful in significantly reducing its environmental impact and use of natural resources by nearly 50 percent across the board per 1,000 pounds of pork produced, which is quite an accomplishment."
Much of the gains in efficiency can be attributed to the continuous improvements farmers have made over the years in both crop production and in the care they give their animals through better nutrition, health and overall management. This appears to be reflected in the study's findings that showed a 29 percent increase in hogs marketed compared to 50 years ago with a breeding herd that is 39 percent smaller. Feed efficiency, a major factor that affects the land required for growing feedstuffs, has improved by 33 percent during this time frame.
"This study shows how farmers today can produce more pork with fewer resources than ever before," said Everett Forkner, a pork producer from Richards, Mo., and immediate past-president of the National Pork Board. "I'm not really surprised by this data either as I've seen a lot of change on my own farm over the years as I've evaluated and implemented new technologies."
According to the study, when all of the findings on efficiency gains are totaled, the progress towards greater sustainability is clear with this example: Today's farms can produce 1,000 pounds of pork with only five pigs from breeding to market compared with eight pigs in 1959.
"As a pork producer, I'm proud of the accomplishments we've made as an industry," Forkner said. "But today's competitive market demands that we do even more to improve how we produce pork and I'm confident we can meet that challenge. We'll do it with more innovations, more Checkoff-funded research and our continued dedication to the We CareSM initiative's set of ethical principles."